Sea Isle City —
In past years, the biggest budget hurdle the Sea Isle City school board had to face was trying to get voters to approve its budget.
This year presented a new obstacle that the school board just can't find a way to get past.
Last month, the school board submitted its preliminary 2012-13 school budget to the county office for approval.
The county sent it back, making major changes to the section that covers school administration costs and sent the budget back to Sea Isle's board.
On March 27, the school board responded with a resounding and unanimous "no" of its own.
"The county rejected the board's budget due to a 'fatal edit' related to administrative costs," Business Administrator Tom Grossi explained at Sea Isle's public budget hearing last week.
Grossi said the county education office changed the total amount that had been budgeted for administrative costs.
It wasn't a minor change; the county reduced the total by cutting 85 percent of what was budgeted. The district had proposed administrative costs of $287,528. The county superintendent cut that to $41,515.
Allowable administrative costs are based on the number of students, at $1,805 per student.
In 2012-13, the Sea Isle City school will have a total of 23 children in its kindergarten through third grade.
It is impossible, board members maintained, to operate the school on administrative costs that are lower than many starting teacher salaries.
Administrative costs include paying a superintendent, principal and/or chief school administrator, Child Study Team services, business administrator, office staff, auditor, legal services and other expenses including the district's internet, telephone, technology expenses and more.
At the public hearing, no one on the school board even pretended to believe the school could procure all those services for a total of $41,515.
"All the administration for the $41,000 the county is allowing? Can we get that in the United States," board vice president Dan Tumolo asked. "I think the safety of the children in this building will be at risk."
Grossi is the business administrator for Ocean City School District and provides business services to Sea Isle City as part of a shared services agreement, along with principal Nicholas Salvia and Superintendent Dr. Kathleen Taylor.
Grossi said it would not be possible for Ocean City to continue to provide those services within the $41,515 cap set by the county office. Taylor did not attend the meeting.
In the budget presentation, Grossi showed a seven year history of what the Sea Isle district has paid for its superintendent, child study team, business office and principal. That total has decreased every year, from $278,800 in 2006-07 when EIRC provided those services to 2011-12, when Ocean City is providing all of those services for $198,000.
The total operating budget was not affected by the cut to administrative costs, as the funding was redirected by the county to other areas of the budget.
The total operating budget for 2012-13 would be $4,023,865. That includes both the local school and tuition for fourth graders through high school students that attend Ocean City schools.
The local tax levy is increasing by $67,810, the maximum two percent the budget can increase without having to go before voters. The property tax increase is less than two-tenths of a cent per $100 assessed property value. An average home will see a total tax increase of $9.51 next year because of the school budget.
In planning the 2012-13 budget, cuts were made, including eliminating music instruction and the preschool program that has been offered for the past few years. Instead, the school board has contracted with Barbarito & Beyers Preschool to offer preschool instruction on a fee basis, operating in the school building.
The budget also includes a 50 percent reduction in staffing in the areas of physical education and Spanish instruction.
The school is anticipating 23 students next year, significantly less than the current year, with 58. The anticipated enrollment next year is for 6 kindergarten students, 10 in first grade, 6 in second and two in third grade.
Because of the low student count in 2012-13, while costs to operate the school remain constant, the cost per pupil will skyrocket from $35,001 per student this year to $59,753 next year.
School board President Valere Egnasko said the enrollment numbers and cost per pupil prove out what the school board presented more than a year ago when the board said that by 2012-13 the school would not be fiscally able to open its doors and operate.
While the budget can cover the costs of operation, with the allowed administrative costs slashed by the county, Egnasko said she does not know how the school can open. Administration personnel are required to operate the school and she finds it unlikely Sea Isle will be able to fill all the required positions for $41,515.
"This board recognizes it cannot operate this school indefinitely and cannot voluntarily enter a total send-receive relationship with Ocean City," Egnasko said.
Taylor has said the Ocean City district would gladly take the remaining Sea Isle students, but can not afford to take Sea Isle's teachers as well. In a voluntary total send-receive relationship, Ocean City would be required to take Sea Isle's tenured teachers.
The Sea Isle board has been asking the state Department of Education to order an expanded send-receive relationship, effectively closing Sea Isle's school doors, for more than a year because of financial reasons.
To date, the Sea Isle board has received no response from the state regarding its request.
The 2012-13 budget does not go before voters for approval, because it is within the two percent increase cap set by the state. The usual April election that included the budget and voting for school board members will not take place. School board candidates will appear on the ballot in November's general election.